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Older people need better safeguards against predatory marriage

View profile for Amanda Voakes
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Legal issues involving predatory marriages have resurfaced in the news recently. Calls to change the law to better protect victims and their families are building momentum, spearheaded by Daphne Franks whose mother, Joan Blass, was a victim of a predatory marriage in 2015. Franks is asking that wills no longer be revoked upon marriage automatically.

Franks’ mother Joan was a vulnerable 87-year-old living with dementia, when a man befriended her, isolated her from her family and married her secretly. When she passed away her new husband inherited the entirety of her estate.

Franks and her local MP Fabian Hamilton are campaigning for the change in the law: in 2018, Fabian presented a private members' bill on the issue to the House of Commons but has yet to meet the Registrar General to discuss the possible changes.

Daphne Frank’s devastating account of her mother falling victim to a predatory marriage highlights the need for better protection of vulnerable people who could be targeted by abusers. Members of Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE), the national membership body which supports older and vulnerable people, has seen an increase of 13% in these types of cases. Which is a huge cause for concern!

Amanda Voakes, Partner and Head of Private Client at Chattertons Solicitors, said: “As it stands, there are little protections in place that help the victim and their loved ones. Once a wedding has occurred, it’s difficult to protect the vulnerable person in question; even with proof of coercion or proof of the victim’s lack of mental capacity. Relatives could also face an emotional and expensive process if they wish to reclaim their loved one’s estate after they’ve passed.”

“To protect vulnerable people and stop predatory marriages from happening, we need to ensure capacity testing is thorough and that registrars have sufficient training to spot potential predators who could be taking advantage of someone.”

What should you do If you suspect a family member or loved one has entered a predatory marriage?

It is important you raise your concerns with them, and try to encourage an annulment. If the person in question doesn’t have adequate mental capacity to do so, you can make an application to the Court of Protection.

Similarly, they should also be encouraged to make a new will as the marriage will have revoked any previous will. If a person doesn’t have capacity to make a will, an application for a statutory will can be made to the court of protection, although this is trickier.

These steps can’t fully prevent a predator from marrying and financially or emotionally abusing you or a loved one. However, conversations centred around your later life wishes are a good step to take as preventative measure. Formalising these by drafting wills or Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPAs) will give you, or your loved one, a higher level of protection should you, or they, ever lose capacity.

Amanda Voakes, Member of SFE (Solicitors for the Elderly), added: “Where possible, you should always speak to a specialist lawyer experienced in this area of law when putting legal protection in place. They’ll be able to provide the best advice on what’s needed according to your situation.”

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